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Expert lament huge spending on drugs import

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By Usman Oladimeji

More than N800 billion is spent each year on importation of malaria drugs.

The huge spending on importation of drug products into Nigeria has raised concerns from experts in the industry. Government and private sector experts present at the fifth anniversary of St. Racheal’s Pharma and the unveiling of its new product, Azithromycin, in Lagos lamented that more than N800 billion is spent each year on the importation of malaria drugs, antibiotics, and vaccines. This occurs in spite of the enormous number of manufacturing companies that are located around the nation.

As a result, the country’s approximately 200 million residents are at risk of epidemics, say experts, since domestic production meets just 30 percent of demand. Placid Njoku, the Deputy Governor of Imo State, spoke at the event themed “Manufacturing Renaissance: A Must for Prosperity in Nigeria,” where he pointed out that despite its large population, Nigeria imports 70 percent of its drug needs from countries like India, China, Germany, the United States, Pakistan, and Netherlands, spending billions of naira in the process.

Nigeria spends about N600 billion annually on antibiotics.

He voiced his concerns about the fact that just 30 percent of Nigeria’s local medical needs are met by the country’s own pharmaceutical industry, resulting in heavy drug imports and increased vulnerability to counterfeit medications. The Deputy Governor noted that Nigeria spends about N600 billion annually on antibiotics and over N200 billion on malaria medications imported from other countries. Antibiotics costing over N395 billion were imported in the first quarter of 2021 to combat COVID-19-related infections.

Spending as much as Nigeria does on drug imports leaves the country vulnerable to international drug risks and providing crucial support for foreign pharmaceutical industries while neglecting the local manufacturing sector. Njoku pointed out that the Active Pharmaceutical Ingredient (API) in over 70 percent of imported drugs may be found in numerous herbs. Hence, he urged local manufacturing firms to start utilizing the herbs in order to reduce the country’s dependence on importation of drugs.

Roughly 115 indigenous companies provide the drug needs.

Patrick Ajah, Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of May & Baker Nigeria, decried the fundamental challenges faced by pharmaceutical firms, including poor power supplies, with over N250 million spent monthly on alternative power generation. He also mentioned exorbitant loan rates, restrictions, unconducive policies, government agencies extortion of companies, and poor infrastructure. Nigeria must develop new methods to engage in the global economy, particularly now that it has joined the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), he added.

Moreover, he said that COVID-19 demonstrated how the availability of quality drugs to the needy people might be improved through local pharmaceutical manufacturing. In contrast to India, which has over 3,000 registered pharmaceutical firms and over 10,500 production locations, Ajah claims that just roughly 115 indigenous pharmaceutical companies provide the drug needs of less than 40 percent of the country’s population. He presumed that foreign investors would exploit Nigeria’s underdeveloped industrial sector if the country did not prioritize its development.

The country should use technology to propel its manufacturing sector.

Former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) gubernatorial candidate Jimi Agbaje calls for supportive policies and an enabling environment to boost the pharmaceutical industry and the general economy. Mrs. Olatomiwa Williams, Microsoft’s country manager for Nigeria and Ghana, recently made the case that the country should use technology to propel its manufacturing sector in order to ensure the sector’s long-term viability and provide employment opportunities for the country’s large youth population. Williams made some related remarks, stressing the need of using technological resources like AI, analytics, and the cloud for data to drive the pharmaceutical production process.

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